I thought Mitch McConnell was just grousing about trade adjustment assistance being included in the three trade deals that the President sent to Congress. What I didn’t know is that the White House negotiated directly with House Republicans on the deal, and didn’t really consult the Senate minority. So they’re making mischief out of a real opposition, not to put on a show. This means that these trade deals may not go through at all.

Yesterday, Senate Republicans blocked a hearing on the deals, holding a press conference instead.

As the Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee filed into a room in a Senate office building for the 3 p.m. hearing, filling slightly more than half the seats, the Republican members gathered before television cameras under the dome of the Capitol.

The committee needs at least one Republican to achieve the quorum necessary to conduct official business. By 3:05 p.m., it was clear that it would have none.

“That’s it,” said Senator Max Baucus, the committee’s chairman, after reading a statement excoriating Republicans for their absence. “We’re waiting.”

The Republicans want Democrats to separate consideration of the trade agreements from a related proposal to reinstate federal benefits for workers who lose jobs because of competition from foreign companies.

Even if they do manage to show up, Republican members of the Finance Committee plan to treat this bill the same way they’ve treated every bill in the Senate this year, as an ideological Christmas tree to which they attach extreme right-wing demands. This has resulted in most cases in the bills getting filibustered in the end.

This is unexpected. I thought that in an ideal world, Republicans would want a clean vote on the Korea trade deal, but they’d hold their noses and allow the vote anyway. If the entire Finance Committee is blocking hearings, if they’re attaching the same kind of poison pill amendments, they actually don’t want the bills to pass. And it’s not like the majority Democrats have any wiggle room – at least a half-dozen members on their side, if not more, will vote against this measure no matter what, they’ve already signaled that.

Of course, there’s the option that Democrats will buckle and remove trade adjustment assistance. But why did the White House negotiate for months and hold up the deals, then? I don’t believe this fits with their conception. TAA is the crumb they have to use to sell the deal to their base. Besides, in their view, they already negotiated the agreement. No changes.

These trade deals are in peril. Forget what you’ve heard about any “deal.”

UPDATE: Somebody forgot to brief Mitt Romney that assistance for displaced workers is soshulism, so he made a statement of support for it. Looking forward to tomorrow’s position.

UPDATE II: And now Chuck Schumer, in a release, is intimating that this reversal on trade deals shows that Republicans want to tank the economy for political gain:

After clamoring for the trade deals for years, all the Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee boycotted a hearing on the matter yesterday, mysteriously citing a scheduling conflict.

The strange reversal seems to be part of a trend. Earlier this month, Republicans criticized the idea of a tax cut for businesses—a concept they’ve supported in the part—as soon as it was floated by the Obama administration.

I don’t disagree with the concept, though I think by blocking the trade deals, the Republicans may be doing the economy a bit of a service.